by Stephanie Pang
Music is seen as an expressive tool where individuals can express their emotions. We often use music for many different purposes e.g. aesthetic appreciation or religious worship. However, music is often a battlefield for gender and inequality issues. Gender stereotyping is not a new phenomenon in music. During the 1980s, the majority of women in music videos were dressed sexily (Gow, 1996) while men are seen as masculine figures and carry hegemonic masculinity.
How Males are portrayed in the songs sung by artists
When listening to music, especially songs sang by female singers, it comes as un surprising that men are portrayed as having all the power. The lyrics “I’ll be a fearless leader and I’d be an alpha type’’ (The Man, Taylor Swift), shows that the image of a top manager in society includes a successful man with a strong masculine presence (Acker, 1990). Messner (2000) supported this view stating that men usually hold position e.g. head coach and assistant coach.
Male are also seen as more privileged than females, as they are usually ‘’ranking in dollars, and getting bitches and models’’ (The man, Taylor Swift). This shows that men are like free spirit animals who constantly search for dreams and living the best of their life (Hyden & McCandless ,1983). And, lyrics ‘I’d be just like Leo in Saint Tropez’ (The Man, Taylor Swift) shows that men are like playboys, and Leonardo DiCaprio (fun fact… Leo has a reputation for flirting with different girls, he always takes his girl friends to have fun in Saint Tropez).
Aside from that, men are portrayed as capable of breaking women’s hearts (shame on them….). This is demonstrated in lyrics “How’s your heart after breaking mine?” (Taylor Swift, Mr. Perfectly Fine), the female singer was devastated after being left by a guy. Similarly, another lyric ‘’Pretends he doesn’t know that he’s the reason why you’re drowning….’’ (Taylor Swift, ‘I know you were trouble) conveys the same message. Men being a heartbreaker can be linked to Click and Kramer (2007)’s view that women are perceived to be the ones who constantly have their hearts broken and wish for shooting stars.
How females are portrayed in the songs
If men are usually seen as powerful and masculine? Does that mean women are being seen to having the same characteristics as well??
Well… the answer is probably not. Women are typically portrayed as fragile and weak in songs sung by female singers, as they tend to break down more than men after a relationship ends. This is evident in lyrics ‘Everything that I do reminds me of you, and the clothes you left, they smell just like you’ (Avril Lavigne, when you’re gone). This showed that women were unable to let go of the men and she still believes that the clothes he left smelled like him. Therefore, women are seen as weak and needy (Lisara ,2014).
Other than that, in songs sung by male singers, women are viewed as objects that are constantly being view by men. Sexual objectification occurred through body representation e.g. sexy clothing, body parts (Flynn et al, 2016). This can be seen in lyrics, ‘’Missing more than just your body’’ (Justin Bieber, sorry), ’Everyone else in the room can see it, everyone else but you’’ (One Direction’s What makes you beautiful). These lyrics have shown that man has missed the body of the female he is speaking of ,and it also indicates that a woman’s body is still meant to be touched, even if the man doesn’t deserve it due to his mistakes. Once again, female is being seen as object more than male artists (Flynn et al, 2016).
However, women are not always seen to be portrayed as weak and sexy figures. Songs that are mostly sung by female artists themselves try to fight against marginalization and push for equal rights as well as empowering women (Nwabueze, 2019). Lyrics ‘’I don’t need a man to be holding me too tight’ (Kesha, women) ‘’She’s on top of the world, hottest of the hottest girls’’ (Alicia Keys, Girl on fire) showed that women can live a better live by themselves. This is in consistent with Nwabueze (2019)’s findings that women are seen to be able to rule and bring positive changes to the world. Yet, we can also argue that only songs sung by female artists are able to portrayed woman in a positive way.
To our future☺
Men and women are portrayed differently as we live in a world where certain activities are classified as masculine or feminine (West & Zimmerman, 1987). Therefore, we can see that gender is socially scripted and that men and women must perform a set of performances in order to fit into society.
I think it is crucial for us to achieve gender inequality in our society as young adults always listens to pop music. Music will influence their perceptions of relationship, sex and gender roles. As a result, the music industry has a big impact on gender construction. To achieve gender equality, I believe more female composers and singers as well as more positive lyrics about women are needed.
(life is not only about competition; it is also about collaboration between men and women, therefore, men and women must be treated equally)
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Flynn. A. M & Craig. M. C & Anderson. N. C & Holody. J. K (2016), objectification in popular music lyrics: An examination of gender and genre differences, Sex roles, 75, pp. 164-176, DOI 10.1007/s11199-016-0592-3
Gow. J (2009). Reconsidering gender roles on MTV: Depictions in the most popular music videos of the early 1990s, Communication reports, 9(2), pp. 151-161, DOI: 10.1080/08934219609367647
Hyden. C & McCandless. J (1983). Men and women as portrayed in the lyrics of contemporary music, Popular music & Society, 9(2), pp.19-26, DOI: 10.1080/03007768308591210
Lisara. A (2014). The Portryal of Women in Katy Perry’s selected song lyrics, Passage, 2(2), pp.61- 68, Available at: file:///Users/pangwingtakstephanie/Downloads/21156-47562-1-PB%20(2).pdf (Accessed: 18 March)
Messner. A. M (2000). Barbie girls versus sea monsters, children constructing gender, Gender & Society, 14(6), pp.765-784, Available at:
https://vle.exeter.ac.uk/pluginfile.php/2414056/mod_resource/content/1/Barbiegirlsvsseamonsters.pdf (Accessed 14 February)
Nwabueze. C (2009). Pop Music, literature and gender: perceptions of womanhood in Grande’s ‘’God is a woman’’ and Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, Litinfinite Journal, pp.23-33, Available at :10.47365/litinfinite.1.1.2019.23-33 (Accessed 15 March)
West. C & Zimmerman. H.D (1987). Doing Gender, Gender and Society, 1(2), pp. 125-151, Available at: https://www.jstor.org/stable/189945 (Accessed 7 March 2022)